When Argentina defeated Serbia & Montenegro 6-0 during the 2006 World Cup, BBC presenter Gary Lineker closed the live coverage of the match by commenting on Argentina’s lowly place in the FIFA World Rankings compared with England, who had laboured to a 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago the previous day. “Perhaps FIFA should watch more football,” he chirruped as the closing titles began rolling.
The new rankings are out today and England are up a whole one place, to seventh, following their 3-1 friendly win over Egypt in early March. They are now above France – beaten 2-0 at home by top-ranked Spain – and so they should be. Portugal, though, are fourth, above Germany and Argentina, which makes no sense at all.
You can always find anomalies in the rankings. That is because they take into account one thing only: the results of football matches. If Portugal are fourth it is because their recent results merit it.
In my mind’s eye, the FIFA World Rankings process involves a gigantic comedy factory machine not dissimilar to Bertha off children’s television in the early 1980s. Sepp ‘Mr Willmake’ Blatter pours the results of the month’s friendlies and qualifying fixtures in a giant funnel. The machine – designed by Marouane Fellaini and Carlos Valderrama, reprising their rôles as designers Mr Sprott and Tracey – whirs into life; pistons pump, governors rotate, comedy grey smoke comes out of a hole in the top and out of a conveyor belt at the other end, FIFA general secretary Miss McClackerty notes down the new FIFA rankings which Pranjit coveys – via forklift truck for no very good reason – to the good people at Sky Sports News.
The best team in the world usually come out on top. Spain have been number one since their Euro 2008 triumph, save a few months when Brazil overtook them after winning last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. The rankings are a triumph of meritocracy over prejudice.
France kicked up a fuss at not being seeded for the World Cup draw; just as they had when placed down in pot four for the Euro 2008 draw. But are France really among the world’s elite? They have not beaten a top side in a competitive match since the last World Cup, when they defeated Spain, Brazil and Portugal in the knock-out stages. They, like most nations, are where they deserve to be.